Created on Monday, 18 March 2013 20:43
On the night of 13 March, white smoke and
chiming bells alerted the world that we had a new Pope. I waited, somewhat
impatiently, to see who the new leader of the world’s largest religious institution
was going to be. Part of me wished I could have been in the Vatican to witness
the revelation for myself. Strange as it may seem for an atheist to express
such a desire, it is true. As a Catholic I had once listened to Pope John Paul
II speak in the Vatican and I wondered what it would be like to once again
listen to a pope speak in the same location but as a non-believer. Furthermore,
the revelation of the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics was a
significant moment in history. One moment that happened to be going on just
twenty minutes from my old home.
Once Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis,
stepped out onto the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, it quickly became clear
that he would have more mass appeal than his predecessor. News contributors
have talked at length of the significance of the name Francis but I realised its
significance as soon as I heard the name. For eight years I attended a Catholic
school named after St Francis of Assisi and I was well aware of his legacy. He
was a man who was born into a wealthy family but chose to live a life of
In his hometown of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio
famously rejected the perks that came with his high rank in the Argentine
church. However, it seems that religious leaders are held to a low standard
when people determine whether or not they are good people. A church official
taking public transport or rejecting a palatial home should not make
international headlines. After all, when priests begin their ‘careers’ they
take a vow of poverty. All too often though, once a priest climbs a few notches
up the church hierarchy those vows are forgotten. I recall when the news broke
that Pope Benedict’s butler had leaked private Vatican documents; my first
thought was, ‘Why on earth does a man who took a vow of poverty have a butler
Created on Saturday, 16 March 2013 21:13
Tweets from Marcos Feliciano in 2011: "Africans are descendants of an ancestor cursed by Noah. This is fact. The reason for the curse is polemic." and "The rottenness of homosexual feelings brings hate, crime and rejection.”
7 March 2013 was not a day to be remembered by minorities in Brazil as Marcos Feliciano, a known racist and homophobic preacher, was elected president of the Human Rights Commission by Brazil’s House of Representatives. Originally planned to take place on the 6th, the voting process had to be transferred to the 7th due to protests and rows among the voting deputies.
The Social Christian Party minister is currently being investigated for accusations of homophobia and embezzlement. He became famous in 2011 for his offensive Twitter posts, which he insists are simply biblical quotations and are just being misinterpreted.
Public demonstrations against Feliciano took place in various cities, among them 10 state capitals: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Florianópolis, Porto Alegre, Maceió, Curitiba, Vitória, Fortaleza and Salvador. But since little attention was given by politicians to demonstrations against the election of Renan Calheiros to President of the Senate despite reports of corruption – including 1.6 million signatures collected via the web platform Avaaz and 250 people gathering in São Paulo – Brazilians have little hope for any immediate result.
However, after a recent demonstration in the city of Franca where the preacher was attending a meeting, Feliciano’s official website no longer posts his daily agenda. This is a small impact, but shows to all activists that maybe he is starting to doubt God is on his side.
Created on Friday, 15 March 2013 20:29
A new poll released this week by the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University has disclosed that more Americans than ever now consider themselves to be religiously unaffiliated.
The report, released on 12 March, indicates that the percentage of Americans who do not claim any religious affiliation has reached a new high of 20 percent, the highest recorded since US religious affiliation began to be tracked in the 1930s. This new number is more than double the percentage reported in 1990 when only 8 percent of Americans polled did not identify with an organized faith, and constitutes a steady and accelerating rise in the Unaffiliated since the 1930s when only 3 percent of Americans identified as such.
It is important to note that the research did not measure the percentage of Americans who self-identify as atheists or agnostics. Responses in the survey were to the question, “What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?”
Other interesting aspects of the survey include a heavy skewing to the younger generation, with over one-third of 18-to-24 year olds claiming no religious affiliation, compared to only 7 percent of those 75 or older. Also some 40 percent of progressives and liberals claimed no religious affiliation, compared to only 9 percent of conservatives. And more men (24 percent) versus women (16 percent), and more whites (21 percent) compared to other minorities.
Some analysts attribute the trend to the heavy influence that Christian conservatives have had as of late in US politics, particularly in dominating the issues of the US Republican Party. They describe the rise as "blowback" to the mingling of church and state in the US.
In the 2012 US Presidential election, over 70% of the religiously unaffiliated voted for President Obama, a higher percentage than any other constituency. With this new report, it seems that the religiously affiliated will only become a more powerful and important constituency in future US elections.
Created on Sunday, 10 March 2013 01:07
Recently the Australian Government acted to ban the
discrimination practices of churches that run aged care facilities. In a great
step towards equality for older gay couples who have been rejected from such
facilities, this new bill would allow churches to be sued for
discriminatory practices against patients within their
institutions. However, in one giant leap backwards, the bill still allows
religiously-run facilities to use discriminatory hiring policies.
While the current finely-balanced federal parliament supports
these measures overall, the opposition Coalition party rejects the bill, stating
that it is a “back-door
attempt” at allowing a human rights bill into
parliament. There has also been opposition from bishops and religious
institutions, claiming that the bill restrains their freedom of religion.
It has now emerged that
the committee behind the bill attempted to add clauses that would make
it unlawful to ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ a person (these clauses have been removed
after a backlash) and the exemption that permits religious institutions to use
discriminatory hiring practices has been subject to criticism. These aspects of
the bill have worried
several human rights groups within Australia, which have noted that several sections of the bill may contravene
international human rights law.
That this bill has been drafted without
consideration to its compatibility with international human rights principles
is concerning. This bill is
intended to consolidate five pieces of current anti-discrimination legislation,
but it does not appear that it will adequately protect our population
from discrimination within both public and religious institutions.
Created on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 04:37
resignation of Pope Benedict, does that mean there will be real change in areas
where the Catholic Church is seen to be at odds even with its own people? Paedophile priests aside, I wish to focus on
the attitude of the church toward women, their health needs, and in particular
contraception and abortion. There have been recent events in Europe regarding
these issues which are worth discussing.
Jones, writing for the Irish Times,
wrote of her disapproval of a custom in Ireland, a country with strong Catholic
traditions, where medical professionals address women
patients as “mother”. Catholic bishops have spoken about their “two-patient model” regarding
maternity services in which mother and child are treated as one unit. Jones’ objection is that referring to a woman as
“mother” means treating that woman as a role rather than as a person; it implies
that women are for breeding, and cannot be considered in separation from that
role. Such a stance skews any possible discussion on abortion: “Women have the
right to be treated as equal, responsible, capable human beings, independent of
any roles they may assume. Women are entitled to medical services in their own
right, including abortion.”
not the only country in Europe where Catholic views have conflicted with the
health needs of women. As reported by Der
Spiegel in January of this year, certain Catholic hospitals in
Germany refused to examine a rape victim. The case was reported by an emergency centre
doctor who treated a 25-year-old woman suspected of being the victim of a
date-rape drug. After prescribing the
‘morning after pill’, the doctor contacted two Catholic hospitals, and both
hospitals refused to provide the gynaecological examination requested by the doctor
and the woman. This refusal was given because Catholic hospitals do not want to
be in the position of having to advise victims of rape regarding possible
unwanted pregnancies. The case caused uproar in the community, and a defensive
reaction by the Catholic Church at the time.
Created on Thursday, 14 February 2013 01:03
Outside of the “Arab Spring” movement and unbeknownst to most of the atheist community in the West, there has been an equally forceful effort in East Asia to throw off Islamist domination since its establishment as an independent country in 1971.
Bangladesh - A country that was initially created as part of Muslim-dominated Pakistan in the movement of Indian independence in 1947, and later separated from Pakistan in 1971 as an independent country - has had a schizophrenic identity since then. Having been the ruling seat of British-ruled India, the Bengal region has had a strong heritage with the British Enlightenment. The region played a major part in the Indian Independence movement. But the region is also strongly Muslim and was the birthplace of the separationist Muslim League which led to the partitioning of India and the creation of Pakistan, which included East Bengal, later renamed East Pakistan, as a nation and a society focused on strict Sharia (Islamic law).
Politics have always been complex in Bangladesh. Since its separation from India, Bangladesh has endured a series of corruption scandals, assassinations and coups that left the country mired as one of the poorest for decades and eventually led to its own war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Much of that war was driven between conservative Islamists (supported by Pakistan) and moderate-minded Muslim and secular progressives (supported by India). The Islamists formed a military faction, the Jammat-e-Islami, which later transformed itself into a political party that led the state for the first decades after independence.
Created on Sunday, 10 February 2013 21:49
During the first
two Arabic months, Moharram and Safar (most recently mid-Nov 2012 to mid-Jan 2013 on the Western calendar), Shia Muslims go into a mourning
period and the colour black comes into prominence. People wear black clothes. Arabic
sentences written on black pieces of cloth are seen in streets, in the entrance
doors of shops, and especially in mosques. During this two-month holy period,
Shia Muslims attempt to find solutions for their problems. One of their
solutions has always been quite strange to me.
It was the
beginning of Moharram when I went as
usual to the Afghan Student Union (in Mashhad City, Iran) to take part in a weekly English-discussion
class. In the yard, there was a tree which had several
pieces of cloth tied to it. Some of the cloths had two or three knots in them
and some had many. While I have seen the green pieces
of cloth tied onto the door handles of mosques or holy places before, this time
it was different for me: this time, I was at a place where university students
gathered. I have decided to write something about this tradition because it has
found its way into a place where the younger generation is educated.
How many serious
problems do you have in your life? An Islamic traditional solution recommends
you to take a piece of cloth (green is preferred) and begin tying.
Created on Monday, 04 February 2013 02:45
concerned with the negatives of atheism often concentrate on moral “ideals”
that they perceive atheists could not have, they seem to forget that their own
ideals give less validation to this life we have now, allowing finite time to
be taken up by demonstrably petty mythical tales.
recent times we have seen an upsurge in honour killings in the large
up-and-coming powerhouse of the world, India, and from it, a greater acceptance
of honour killings from the communities within these regions. While
this is not an issue confined to the South Asian continent, it is an issue strongly
linked to religion (and, in India, specifically, the caste system), with the
ideology of these murders spreading through several doctrines of faith.
Now, with more emigration
around the world (which is not a bad thing in itself), some of these strange
ideologies have spread into western societies, hiding in plain sight as we wear
our politically correct tinted glasses and ignore that an essential issue
behind these numerous human rights abuses is religion. Proving a ‘higher’
set of morality provides justification in some people’s minds for what is
simply a crime. While when the judicial system
is involved the right outcome can be achieved many people are
sympathetic to the notion of allowing immigrants to keep their ‘culture’. A lot
of people feel like it is too much of a messy issue to deal with.
Created on Wednesday, 16 January 2013 08:08
Eve 2012, attacks on two Nigerian churches resulted in
the deaths of at least 12 people. Brutal as the attacks may have been, they
were not necessarily surprising as attacks by militant Islamist groups against
Christians in Nigeria have become all too common. The Christmas attack is one
of many since 2010. More than 30 people died in 2011 on Christmas Day in a wave
of attacks in the region, blamed on the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Indeed,
al-Qaeda affiliated militant Islamist groups such as Boko Haram have become
more active not only in Nigeria but in other African countries as well. Some of
the other main groups include Ansar Dine in Mali and al-Shabab in Somalia.
As of January 2012, Boko Haram had killed close
to 1,000 people. One year on and many attacks later, the death toll is well over
1,000. Although it has targeted a wide range of people, Boko Haram is especially
known for attacking Christians during religious gatherings. This is in part due to the fact
that many international news agencies tend to give more coverage to Boko Haram
when it targets Christians as opposed to other groups. Ansar Dine has
taken over large areas of Mali, most notably Timbuktu, and imposed sharia law.
Al-Shabab has caused devastation in Somalia and has been responsible for
attacks in Kenya and Uganda.
Created on Saturday, 16 March 2013 21:55
Following consultation with members, AAI is pleased to announce that it has finalised its position statement on freedom of expression. This statement is intended to provide a concise reference and coherent argument that members and other atheists may use in situations in their own countries, and refute the common accusation that 'atheists stand for nothing'. Thank you everyone who contributed their views!
Created on Thursday, 14 March 2013 09:38
On the International Day To Defend Apostates and Blasphemers, the Council of Ex-Muslims, an AAI Affiliate, is supporting:
- Alex Aan, Indonesia: 30 year old atheist, in prison for saying there is no god on Facebook. Sign petition here.
- Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Baz (also known as Ben Baz), Kuwait: Blogger and atheist charged with blasphemy. Support him here.
- Turki Al Hamad, Saudi Arabia: Novelist in prison for tweets critical of Islam and Islamism. Write letter here.
- Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia: Charged with apostasy for website that “harms the public order and violates Islamic values”. Sign petition.
- Asia Bibi, Pakistan: 45 year old mother of five, sentenced to death for ‘insulting Mohammad’. Join save Asia Bibi Facebook Page here.
- Hamza Kashgari, Saudi Arabia: 23 year old Muslim charged with blasphemy for tweeting about Mohammad and women’s status. Sign petition here and here.
- Saeed Malekpour, Iran: Sentenced to death for ‘insulting and desecrating Islam’. Join Free Saeed Malekpour Facebook Page here.
- Shahin Najafi, Iran: A death fatwa for apostasy has been issued for a song critical of an imam. Support Shahin here.
- Ahmad Rajib, Bangladesh: The well-known 35 year old atheist blogger had his head hacked apart with a machete one day after attending anti-Islamist protests.
- Alber Saber, Egypt: The atheist blogger has been sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy. Support him here.
In each of these cases Islam was apparently 'offended', providing 'justification' for the crimes against these apostates and blasphemers. Those who claim Islam is a religion of peace need to think further about the behaviour of Islamists and how they justify their actions.
Created on Thursday, 07 March 2013 10:21
On February 9, 2013, the former Chair of the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Eze Ebisike died after a brief illness. On March 2, he was buried in his hometown Okpokume, Mpam, Ekwerazu Ahiazu Mbiase in Imo State. Ebisike was an ex-catholic priest and an atheist. He was buried after a short humanist funeral ceremony in the compound. The ceremony was a historic event because it was the first time, in that part of the country that someone who was an atheist was given a non-religious funeral.
Funerals constitute a vital part of the local culture and tradition. Most people attach a lot of importance to rites marking the end of life. Some people plan for their own funerals even though they know they won't be there to celebrate it! People devote time, energy and resources to mourning the dead and paying their last respects.
But like most other aspects of culture, funeral ceremonies have been based on religion and supernaturalism. A funeral is a ‘spiritual’ and godly exercise.
Hence people think that a funeral must be conducted in line with the teachings of one of the traditional religions; Islam or Christianity. They cannot imagine a godless funeral service or a non religious or non theistic way of mourning the dead. This is to be expected given the ubiquity of the theistic cosmological outlook. Most people believe in a god that rewards or punishes people after death. There is a strong belief that death is not the end of life, that death is a kind of transition from this life to the ‘next life’, that there is a heaven and a hell. But humanists do not hold to these beliefs. For humanists, death is the end of life. When people die they decompose just like all other living things. Post mortem life in heaven and hell is viewed at best as a comforting illusion. The evidence for a personal god is simply not there. There has also been no evidence produced for the existence of a soul. And the whole idea of the soul leaving the body is just wishful thinking.
Created on Saturday, 16 February 2013 04:29
Atheist Ireland, an Affiliate of AAI, will be hosting Empowering Women through Secularism in Dublin, 29-30 June 2013. The speaker line up is excellent - Annie Laurie Gaylor, Maryam Namazie, Taslima Nasrin, Ophelia Benson, Rebecca Watson, PZ Myers and Dan Barker, as well as AAI President Carlos Diaz. Don't miss this fantastic opportunity - early bird tickets now on sale for EUR100. For more information click here.
Created on Friday, 15 February 2013 06:42
In this episode Jake and Han talk about atheist churches, the accusations of elitism and the horrors committed in the name of faith. They also interview Indian atheist writer Rastam Singh. Click here for the Secular World podcast.
Created on Saturday, 09 February 2013 06:38
Jake and Han talk about boy scouts, religious violence and the myth of Christian morality. Plus a fascinating interview is Roselynne Martinez from PATAS, the Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society. Click here for the Secular World podcast.
Created on Tuesday, 29 January 2013 06:40
AAI President Carlos Diaz talks with hosts David Driscoll and John Snyder about his background and religious education in Argentina, Atheist Census and other AAI activities. The interview starts at around the 10:15 mark.
Created on Sunday, 13 January 2013 19:59
The end of the world; Atheist Census with Carlos Diaz, AAI President; David Ince, the Carribean Atheist; and so much more! Enjoy! Contact the show by emailing podcast [at] atheistalliance [dot] org. Click here for the latest podcast. And yes, we've re-numbered the podcasts, we're just mysterious like that.